It’s May Day, a joyous celebration that conjures images of maypoles, flowers and the promise of summer. May Day originates from the ancient Roman festival of Floralia, an agricultural holiday celebrating Flora, the goddess of fertility, flowers and spring. Celebrated in cultures throughout the world for thousands of years, May Day has traditionally included flowers as adornment and tokens of affection.
While certain flowers have long embodied symbolic meaning, a prescribed language of flowers developed during the 19th century. Books devoted exclusively to floral arranging, children’s stories, and poetry about flowers became extremely popular. Floral-crazed Victorian hostesses competed with each other to create the most splendid and elegant arrangements. Dressed flowers stands, ranging from simple vases to elaborately ornamented forms, added to the magnificence and drama of the home’s interior decoration. Flower and plant holders were sold in a large number of styles to suit every taste. Luxury goods like cut glass and exotic flowers were powerful symbols that conveyed social status, as did the execution of proper etiquette to display them.
A number of products made by glassmakers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflect this cultural trend. Firms such as Union Glass Company, Mt. Washington, and Libbey Glass Company created lines of glass vessels made for the wholesale florist industry. Etiquette manuals and clever advertising campaigns suggested pairing specific flowers to their proper vase for optimum display.
Featured here are three recent museum acquisitions and the accompanying symbolic meaning of the flowers they are meant to contain. To decipher the meaning of the flowers, I consulted the 1844 pocket-sized book, The Flower Vase; Containing the Language of Flowers and Their Poetic Sentiments by Miss S.C. Edgarton and The Floral Offering: A Token of Affection and Esteem; Comprising the Language of Poetry of Flowers, written by Henrietta Dumont in 1858.
Pansy: Tender and pleasant thoughts
Lilac: First emotions of love
Tiger Lily Vase
Tiger Lily: Wealth, pride